Fifth-year Northeastern student Jillian Gleason resolved to run the big race, 26.2 miles through eight iconic cities and towns.
To honor the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, she pledged to trek from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Boston, from Main Street to Boylston Street. One year after the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, she vowed to cross the very finish line where two homemade bombs had killed three people and injured more than 260.
And her mission was personal: Three of her Northeastern friends were injured in the attack and the son of her family’s neighbors, 8-year old Martin Richard, was killed. Her mother, who’s been running the Boston Marathon for some 20 years, crossed the finish line just minutes before the first bomb exploded.
“I didn’t have a plan, but there was no doubt in my mind that I would find a way to run the Boston Marathon in 2014,” recalls Gleason, BS/MS’15, who is in the final year of the speech language pathology graduate program in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences. “I owed it to everyone affected and couldn’t think of a better way to express how I was feeling.”
Lucky for her, Gleason secured a bib number through the Boston Athletic Association’s special essay contest, which asked applicants to explain how the twin bombings had affected them. Some five months later, she completed the 118th Boston Marathon in 5 hours, 8 minutes, 43 seconds, hitherto the “most overwhelming and reflective” period of time in her life.
Over the past two years, Gleason says, running has become her psychological outlet, “a symbol of everything I’ve gone through with my family and friends.” She caught the running bug, completing the October 2014 Bay State Marathon in 4 hours, 26 minutes, 17 seconds, and is currently training for another big race: In April, she will run the 2015 Boston Marathon on behalf of the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation, which seeks to honor Martin’s message of “No more hurting people—peace” by investing in education, athletics, and community.
Gleason, who hopes to raise $7,500 for the foundation, will run for Team MR8, a diverse group of 60-odd students, teachers, coaches, doctors, nurses, journalists, entrepreneurs, and executives. “I feel incredibly honored,” she says. “The Richards have the most positive outlook that you could imagine, and they’ve done an unbelievable job of spreading Martin’s message.”
In preparation for the 119th Boston Marathon, Gleason has been running four times per week. The majority of her runs range from five to eight miles, but she’ll increase the distance on the weekends, when she trains alongside dozens of runners from various charity teams. In late-February, she completed charityteam.org’s annual Superhero 17 training run, a 17-mile trek that took her from Natick to Boston in a Hulk costume. And she’ll run the first 21 miles of the marathon route on March 28, bedecked like the Easter bunny for the “Hop 21.”
The diligent training will be worth the pay-off. “For me,” Gleason says, “the Boston Marathon has become a symbol of love, strength, support, family, friends, sweat, and tears.”